Corona Progress You Say? Yes!

By Peter Callens, president of the Brussels Bar (Dutch language section)

Every cloud has a silver lining. And never let a good crisis go to waste.

Now isn’t this a great combination of quotes when it comes to promoting digital communication in times of corona?

Life has always been full of surprises. They come in varying quantities, of good ones and not so good ones. Only very few people will characterise the current plague as a joyful one, although many will admit that the quietness that has accompanied the lockdown has advantages they could not imagine. People are discovering or rediscovering pleasures they believed the contemporary world no longer had on display. Times thought bygone have suddenly returned, like Ulysses returned to Ithaca after an odyssey that seemed eternal.

Today’s curse has not only brought back sweet – or are they edulcorated? – memories of a paradise lost, though. It has also unexpectedly but hugely opened the gates to technological developments so far unheard of. The most conspicuous one, which appears to have found access to virtually – I am not using this word innocently – every firm, is videoconferencing. Software unknown to the majority of us literally two or three weeks ago has become the new normal.

I don’t know how things work in your jurisdiction, but over here court hearings by videoconference are a rather radical novelty. We were familiar with the concept of filing trial briefs through the appropriate electronic communication platform, but before the corona crisis it was thought unthinkable – you may appreciate the paradox – to file petitions or letters to the courts. Believe it or not, but communication with the courts by e-mail was considered, if not straightforwardly illegal, at least utterly impolite. Overnight it has become mainstream. A new courtesy is born.

What seemed to belong to the realm of science fiction – or should we say law fiction – has become normal practice. And what is more, these changes are here to stay. For years, so it seems, certain people spent their valuable time finding reasons not to roll out any of these technological improvements, the advantages of which we now see as self-evident. They were on the wrong side of law history.

Technology was presented as unaffordable – it was not. This crisis has pressed the stop button on technology-averse procrastination.

Corona is and remains a calamitous scourge. Yet some of it is a comforting blessing in disguise.